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Friday, December 29, 2017

My journey - 5 years after being diagnosed with cancer

Five years ago, in mid June 2012, I was diagnosed with 3rd stage cancer. NPC (Naso-Pharyngeal Carcinoma) to be exact. It was, of course, unexpected. Surprisingly, I was not as devastated by the revelation than I would have thought. I thank God that I didn't go into a panic frenzy.

It was already at 3rd stage because this particular type of cancer usually has no symptoms. I had discovered it because I had just come back from a trip to Bangkok (April 2012) and as many would know when you fly, the ears may be blocked for a while after you land. However, the blockage usually clears within the hour or at most within the day. In my case, it didn't go away even after a few days. As most of us would probably react and say the same thing, being busy with work and all that, that we'll go to the doctor and take a look at it later.

2 weeks after returning from my trip and the blockage was still there. Thanks to my wife's nagging, I finally conceded to see a doctor. However, the doctor had no idea what the problem was and just said that I had an ear infection and gave me some anti-biotic pills for a week. 10 days later, the blockage was still there. AGAIN, thanks to my wife, I went back to see the same doctor. This time, he conceded that he couldn't tell what was wrong and referred me to an ENT (Ear/Nose/Throat) Specialist. 
I went to see Dr Koay Cheng Boon at Sunway Medical Centre PJ the very next day. Dr Koay was familiar with what I was going through and immediately poked a camera into my nose after checking my ears. He had found a tiny growth that looked like a small pimple inside my nostril. We could also see that he was seeing as there was a screen that shows what the camera was capturing. He told us that he needed to get a cell sample for a biopsy. So, he pinched a small piece of flesh from the pimple. It really smarted but thank goodness it was quick. When we went back to see him 2 days later Dr Koay confirmed that the growth was indeed cancerous. I was immediately referred to the hospital that has Tomo-therapy nearest to the Sunway Medical Centre, which is a well-known hospital in Subang that shall not be named for reasons obvious to some but not to others. We ended up going to the other hospital that had Tomo-therapy at the time - Prince Court Medical Centre KL. That was God's blessing in disguise.
I needed to undergo the standard Tomo-therapy treatment for NPC which was a combination of Radiotherapy (7x5 = 35 sessions) & Chemotherapy (7 sessions). All of this happened for a duration of 7 weeks. I was pretty much OK for the 1st 2 weeks but the throwing up started from the 3rd week of treatment. It happens in the car while on the way to/from the hospital, in the hospital while waiting for my session and also when I get home.

I am thankful to God that Tomo-therapy treatment, unlike the traditional NPC treatment, doesn't destroy the salivary glands due to the radiation being targeted at the head & neck. However, despite that, damage to the salivary glands are unavoidable. Hence, as the result of the treatment, my mouth is constantly dry due to the damaged salivary glands. But unlike those who had underwent traditional NPC treatment, my taste buds are pretty much restored back to maybe 95% normal. In the initial few months after treatment, food and even plain water tastes funny.
 The other side effect of my treatment is that there is a constant 24x7x365 ringing in my left ear. This is a result of the nerves being damaged by radiation. Again, I thank God that the ringing is something that doesn't bother me for most the time I'm awake. It only bugs me when I'm in bed when my head's on the pillow.

The first few weeks right after my treatment, I wasn't eating or even drinking water because I just kept my mouth closed. I was starving and quite dehydrated. I lost close to 20kg from before my treatment. It does seem foolish looking back but at that time, I didn't open my mouth to even drink because water tasted funky and I felt like puking whenever I opened my mouth. My wife tried to feed me liquid food like milk and porridge but I couldn't even take in a spoonful. This went on for more than a week. Eventually, my family sent me back to the hospital for readmission. I was on drip for a week.
It has now been 5 years since I received my FINAL treatment at the Prince Court Medical Centre in Sept 2012. I was under the exceptional care of my oncologist Dr Muhammad Azrif Annuar and Radiologist Mr Kannan. I have no higher praise for the team at Prince Court. They provided me the best care and service that any patient would ever need or ask for.

I thank God that He had given me and my family the strength to weather through the ordeal. Without His help, I am certain I wouldn't have been able to get past the last 5 years with so few challenges.

I thank my family for their sacrifices, their love, their care and patience. As I'm sure many will be able to understand, taking care of someone with critical illnesses is no walk in the park. This is especially so in the first 9 months post-treatment.

I thank my church brethren for their care, concern and prayers. During my recovery period post-treatment, they had come by several times to visit, pray for my quick recovery and help lift my spirits with encouraging words from the Good Book.



ian said...

Hi Mr Loke

I am facing a similar condition to yours. If you don't mind I hope to communicate with you to ask a few things. Will that be okay? Appreciate it very much. Thank you.

JM Loke said...

My sincerest apologies for not having replied until now. Pls PM me with your questions and I'll be more than happy to share.